When the motley Krewes of St. George’s assembled last Friday morning on the Laurence Square lawn in front of Porteous Hall and within the Michael R. Boh Early Childhood Center Playground, there was more than anticipated excitement. The Kinfolk Brass Band was warming up, a rattle and hum of brass and drums; the children were in lines behind their banners before their grand entrances, bedecked in their costumes, buggies and cardboard floats, impossibly boisterous despite teachers’ efforts; our parents were as colorful and costumed as our students, cell phone cameras at the ready but as much spectacle as spectator! Then Kinfolk got us all marching, and the cheering ensued as beads and trinkets flew, with varied success, from the little hands of our youngest learners to the extended, waving hands of our lower and middle schoolers. Parents navigated their own costumes and phones as they, too, screamed and waved and caught what they could from the children they’d helped the past few days assemble a bag of throws. It also took the hands of our 7th and 8th graders to assist their Pre-K4 and Kindergarten buddies around the circle of Laurence Square, familiar as our student leaders were from their own experiences a mere 8 years previous. There was more than excitement; it was pure, unbridled joy. Mardi Gras was indeed happening, and it came to St. George’s first.
If this weren’t enough, minutes and steps away from that playground still happily littered in Mardi Gras aftermath, our Middle School ELA teachers and Cottonwood Oratory finalists were calming their nerves in Salem Theatre for the final round of performances. Guest judges were reviewing the rules and rubrics, and the parents and guests of the nine finalists found their seats before the entire Middle School and 4th grade joined them, transitioning somehow successfully and fairly quietly from the Mardi Gras mayhem.
For those of you unaware, the Cottonwood Oratory Festival exemplifies St. George’s at its finest, and yet it now seems routine for our Middle School. Indeed, Middle School students and families know precisely what it takes to become a finalist, as all 5th-8th graders participate and complete the rigorous process of selecting a favorite passage or scene from a book or poem, fiction or nonfiction, committing it to memory, learning the language whereby the words are not simply rehearsed and recited but fully comprehended to the extent that others may understand just as well as the performer through the enunciation, emphasis and sheer brilliance of expression in the performance. A winning oratory must embody the very meaning of the lines performed over a few short, masterful minutes. And how. Over a month of work goes into those few final minutes, and all nine were nearly flawless in execution, with scenes ranging from the silly serious to the tragicomic to the poetically glorious (and sometimes goriest)! How the judges decided a winner of the junior and senior divisions was beyond me, but worthy they were. They all were. I was so proud of them, of all their teachers, of their parent coaches and cheerleaders, of the entire school.
How satisfying, then, to walk a block to Shaya for our Parents Group’s inaugural Mardi Gras Luncheon, where, if anything, the costumes had stepped up a notch among our parents, and the food was, as predictable, delicious. I took a beat at one point and just listened to the laughter and absorbed a beautiful moment. I would have stayed longer had I not newly admitted families to call and welcome to St. George’s next on my agenda. Had I fewer families to call, I might have shared with every single one of them what I’d just experienced and what they’d soon experience, too. I’d say it was a good Friday, the very best day, in fact.
I wonder how we’ll remember the last two years when the backward glances of history, memory and perspective allow it. Pandemic. Hurricane. Masks and tests and quarantines. Racial and social and political strife. And the erosion of civility worn down by the greater and greater extremes. Geo-political turmoil and the rattling of sabers now all too real with the invasion of Ukraine.
Right now I hold that all at bay. Masks off and guard down, right now I choose to embrace a Mardi Gras and a city and our school resuming the traditions and culture that make us uniquely special. This day, none of it needed to be reimagined or curtailed. Perhaps last Friday afforded me such joy because of what I’d forgotten—or more precisely, what I’ve been missing for too long. It was glorious to be back and moving forward.
- Dr. Kreutziger